Forward Thinking

Battling Climate Change, the Jewish Way

By David Seidenberg

The rally in Washington D.C. last Sunday on climate change, organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and hundreds of other groups, was the largest of its kind in U.S. history, attended by up to 50,000 people, from all over the country. Buses came from all over, some traveling for several days to bring people to Washington DC from places like Montana.

Nili Simhai of the Teva Learning Alliance, which teaches nature programs to Jewish day school children called it “an historic moment.”

“it’s important for us to be here,” Simhai said. “Sustainable climate policies are at the core of what Teva has been teaching for years.”

A few thousand people were there to represent religious groups, like Quakers, Lutherans and Catholics, and of course there were thousands of Jews at the climate rally, but just a few Jewish organizations. The Shalom Center and the Green Zionist Alliance were there, as was my own organization, neohasid.org. And of course, the First Nations people from Canada, whose land is being destroyed by the tar sands development, brought all of their passion and vision to the rally.

One of the chants I heard most often was, “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” Another was, “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!”

Speakers praised President Obama for finally finding his voice on climate change, but plenty of people in the march were skeptical about whether Obama would match words with deeds. All are closely watching whether he acts to stop the Keystone Pipeline.

But is climate change a Jewish issue? We all thought so, and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has been making the case in print. The students from the Central Reform Synagogue in St. Louis who were there with their rabbi and Hebrew school teacher think so too, but what the Jewish community thinks is still up in the air.

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Sandy: Climate Change You Can Believe In

By J.J. Goldberg

Climate change didn’t come up in any of the three debates, though Candy Crowley did mention it in passing, if only to note that it wasn’t going to be discussed. In fact, it’s hardly been mentioned in the entire campaign, even though, as I wrote last week, it is one of the most important issues that will be decided by the outcome of the election. Green blogger Nathan Currier at Huffington Post has a grimly amusing take on the timing of Hurricane Sandy right at the climax of an election season that so desperately avoided talking about the climate. Here’s Currier:

In a time when climate silence trumps climate science, when the candidates seem terrified to mention the ‘C-word,’ Candy, I hope you enjoy meeting Sandy.

Currier’s main point is that man-made climate change is directly responsible for the storm. Climate scientists and writers seem to be of three schools of thought on the question. Everyone seems to agree that the magnitude of the storm results from the collision of three distinct weather events, the hurricane itself, a cold front moving down from the Arctic and an early winter storm coming from the Midwest. One school (for instance, this very cautious piece by New York Times Dot-Earth blogger Andrew Revkin) says that the unlikely coming together of the three weather events is made more likely by the documented warming of the planet and reflects the models put forward by mainstream climate science. (Recall that Hurricane Irene, one of the top 10 killer storms of the last 30 years, wandered up the coast just last year.) But, he says, you can’t categorically state direct causality. L.A. Times science writer Neela Banerjee talked to some scientists who are equally cautious.

A second school (like this piece by Science20.com contributor Robert Cooper) says that at least one or two of the three events is a direct reflection of climate change, and would have been highly unlikely in past decades before the greenhouse effect began to make itself felt. The third school argues, like Currier at HuffPost, that all three events can be directly attributed to the global warming process.

[A]ll major components of this superstorm show the signature of human-induced climate change to varying degrees, and without global warming the chance of the three occurring together like this would have a probability of about zero. So, let’s make it simple, and just say climate change caused this storm.

I’ll name the three events quickly and then explain them in greater detail.

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Probing the Psychology of Climate Denial

By J.J. Goldberg

America’s weird and weirdly mounting resistance to the science of climate change is a topic of growing alarm around the world. What’s behind it? No clear answers yet, but some interesting new bits of insight are surfacing.

First up, a sharply worded cri de Coeur by Chesapeake Bay-area environmental activist Mike Tidwell that appeared on the op-ed page of the Baltimore Sun just after the Durban climate conference ended in mid-December, looking at the arc of atmospheric warming and the expected impact on human society: “AIDS, poverty, war – none of them will matter if the atmosphere warms by 11 degrees in a century.”

Second, and perhaps most chilling, an investigative piece on the front page of The New York Times the other day, detailing the growing difficulty climate scientists face in studying the phenomenon because of funding cuts and political resistance to the science itself.

Third, a fascinating exploration from 2010 by an Australian philosophy professor, Clive Hamilton, of some psychological and cultural aspects to the politics of science denial. His most eye-opening insight: the way that acceptance or denial of the research becomes part of one’s personal social-political identity, so that examining someone’s voting habits and views on abortion and taxes now serve as safe predictors of their views on climate science and environmental regulation in a way that simply wasn’t true a decade ago. His other stunner: a lengthy comparison of today’s hostility to “liberal science” with the reaction against “Jewish science” touched off in Central Europe in 1920 by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Granted, the idea of psychoanalyzing people who disagree with your opinions smacks of the worst sort of intellectual arrogance, not to say closed-mindedness. In this case, however, we’re not talking about opinion but about scientific fact, and as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.

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